New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath avoids Oakland’s Ben Davidson and fires to wide receiver George Sauer Jr., in 1968 AFL Championship game at Shea Stadium.
If the New York Jets defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers today, they will cross over into the final frontier.
Only one Jets team has ever come this far. That team upset the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, to win Super Bowl III and put the American Football League on the map.
But before the Jets reached the Super Bowl, they had to get past the Oakland Raiders in the 1968 AFL championship game. The Jets and the Raiders didn’t like one another. The previous season, Oakland linemen Ike Lassiter and Ben Davidson combined to rearrange Joe Namath’s face, breaking his cheekbone.
And earlier in 1968, the Raiders rallied with two touchdowns in the final minutes to beat the Jets, 43-32, in the famous Heidi game. An NBC executive had pulled the plug on the football game in favor of Heidi, much to the consternation of fans coast to coast, who missed the exciting finish.
On December 29, 1968, the Jets and Raiders squared off on a relatively mild but windy afternoon at Shea Stadium, with gusts up to the 35 miles per hour. As per the television laws in place at that time, the game was blacked out in the New York metropolitan area.
Raiders Rout Chiefs
The previous week the Jets rested while the Raiders, behind five touchdown passes from Daryle Lamonica, beat the Kansas Chiefs, 41-6, in a playoff for the AFC West championship.
In New York, the Raiders quickly fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter. But they rallied on the strength of a 400-yard passing game from Lamonica and took the lead midway through the fourth quarter on a 5-yard run by Pete Banaszak.
Undaunted, Joe Namath took the Jets back down the field on the signature drive of his career before firing his third touchdown pass of the day — second to Don Maynard — to put the Jets ahead to stay.
The Raiders drove to the Jets 12 in the final minutes, but Lamonica threw a swing pass that turned into a backward lateral. Jet’s linebacker Ralph Baker recovered and New York was on the way to Super Bowl III in Miami.
Oh yeah, six Hall of Famers started that day at Shea, including Namath and Maynard of the Jets, and Fred Biletnikoff, Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and George Blanda of the Raiders.
Biletnikoff caught seven passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, and Blanda kicked three field goals to keep the Raiders close. Namath passed for 266 and three touchdows, and Maynard caught six for 118 yards and a pair of scores.